(Oct. 23) SANTIAGO, Chile — Exports of Chilean fruit to the U.S. are increasing seasonally, with avocados continuing to flow into U.S. markets and grape arrivals a little more than a month away.

Limited production of Chilean and Argentine blueberries has led to strong f.o.b.s in the U.S.

The first arrivals of stone fruit should come by early December, but shippers say weather-related problems could reduce volumes of plums and apricots.

Reductions in passenger flights and the potential for further port disruptions on the U.S. West Coast also could affect the Chilean fruit deal.

GRAPES:

A frost in the Copiapo Valley could result in the loss of 300,000 18-pound boxes of early export grapes, said Roberto Zelaya, Copiapo-based agronomist with Chiquita-Enza Chile, Santiago.

But in light of the total production from the Copiapo Valley, about 9 million boxes, the frost shouldn’t affect the market, he said.

Jim Pandol, vice president of marketing for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, Calif., said maybe 5% of the valley’s total volumes were lost. Most grapes from the valley have good quality, he said.

Zelaya said Chiquita-Enza should harvest perlettes as early as Nov. 4. The first boat shipments of grapes from Chile should leave Nov. 20 or Nov. 22, he said.

Pandol expects the vessels to arrive in the U.S. Dec. 4.

More than the frost in Copiapo Valley, U.S. markets for Chilean table grapes will depend on the transition from grapes in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Pandol said the industry still has a gap when it comes to green grapes like perlettes, sugraones and thompsons. But production of red grapes from California, such as crimsons, continues into early November.

“So there’s really no rush for the Chileans to come up here,” Pandol said, citing the potentially heavy overlap between Chilean and Californian grapes.

Many U.S. retailers plan to hold onto California crimsons and red globes until early December, he said.

Marcelo Saavedra, operations manager of Sociedad Agricola Valle Dorado Ltda., Copiapo, said Chilean exports will include heavier volumes of green grapes like thompsons in the future.

Pandol said he expects that as the Chilean export deal grows, supplies will become increasingly seamless.

“There are no windows anymore,” he said.

On Oct. 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s for 19-pound lugs of U.S. No. 1 red globes at $9.85 and crimson seedless at $11.85-12.85. Thompson seedless grapes were at $8.85.

STONE FRUIT:

Though Chilean grapes may overlap with U.S. product, Chilean stone fruit will enter a clean U.S. pipeline, shippers say.

On Oct. 22, some California plums were in still in the U.S. market, but by the time the Chilean deal gets under way, the U.S. market will be nearly empty, said David Schiro, president of Jac Vandernberg Inc., Yonkers, N.Y.

The Chilean harvest for stone fruit should begin around Nov. 10, with air shipments in the U.S. arriving a few days later, he said. The first vessels will leave Chile with stone fruit around Nov. 20, he said.

Volumes for peaches and nectarines look similar to last year, Schiro said. Apricots and plums, both of which had rain during bloom, could see volumes drop, but the decreases won’t be huge, he said.

John Loughridge, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., also reported shorter volumes of plums from Chile. Like Schiro, he also anticipated heavier volumes of preconditioned Chilean stone fruit this season.

Schiro said the industry expects less space and higher rates for airfreight this season, caused both by a drop in passenger flights from last year as well as traditional competition from Chilean salmon shipments.